c. 1300, "a gathering of persons, a group gathered for some purpose," from Old French as(s)emblee "assembly, gathering; union, marriage," noun use of fem. past participle of assembler "to assemble" (see assemble). Meaning "a gathering together" is recorded from early 15c.; that of "act of assembling parts or objects" is from 1914, as is assembly line.
Perhaps the most interesting department in the whole factory, to the visitor, is the final assembly. In this division, all the assembled units meet the assembly conveyor at the point where they are needed. At the start of the track a front axle unit, a rear axle unit and a frame unit are assembled. This assembly is then started in motion by means of a chain conveyor, and as it moves down the room at a constant speed of eight feet per minute, each man adds one part to the growing chassis or does one operation, which is assigned to him, so that when the chassis reaches the end of the line, it is ready to run on its own power. ["The Story of an Automobile Factory," in "Universal Book of Knowledge and Wonders," 1917]
School sense, "gathering of all students for a presentation" is from 1932. From mid-14c. as "a gathering for deliberation," hence it is the name of the lower house in state (earlier colonial) legislatures in America (1680s). In 17c.-18c. assemblies "dancing balls 'among polite persons of both sexes,' often paid for by subscription of the participants" were a prominent feature of social life.
unit of linear measure in Great Britain, the U.S., and a few other countries, formerly used in most European countries before the metric system; Old English mil, from West Germanic *milja (source also of Middle Dutch mile, Dutch mijl, Old High German mila, German Meile), from Latin milia "thousands," plural of mille "a thousand" (neuter plural was mistaken in Germanic as a fem. singular), which is of unknown origin.
The Latin word also is the source of French mille, Italian miglio, Spanish milla. The Scandinavian words (Old Norse mila, etc.) are from English. An ancient Roman mile was 1,000 double paces (one step with each foot), for about 4,860 feet, but many local variants developed, in part in an attempt to reconcile the mile with the agricultural system of measurements. Consequently, old European miles were of various lengths. The medieval English mile was 6,610 feet; the old London mile was 5,000 feet. In Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, the Latin word was applied arbitrarily to the ancient Germanic rasta, a measure of from 3.25 to 6 English miles. In England the ordinary mile was set by legal act at 320 perches (5,280 feet) by statute in Elizabeth's reign.
In Middle English the word also was a unit of time, "about 20 minutes," roughly what was required to walk a mile. The word has been used generically since 1580s for "a great distance." Mile-a-minute (adj.) "very fast" is attested from 1957 in railroad publications (automobiles had attained 60 mph by 1903).
"to thrust, push; jostle;" also, "to prod, drive (cattle, etc.) by poking and prodding," late 14c., from Old French ponchonner "to punch, prick, stamp," from ponchon "pointed tool, piercing weapon" (see punch (n.1)).
Meaning "to pierce, make a hole or holes in with a punch, emboss with a tool" is from early 15c.; meaning "to stab, puncture" is from mid-15c. Related: Punched; punching.
Specialized sense "to hit with the fist, give a blow, beat with blows of the fist" is recorded by 1520s. Compare Latin pugnare "to fight with the fists," from a root meaning "to pierce, sting." In English this sense-shift evolved also probably by influence of punish: Punch or punsch for punish is found in documents from 14c.-15c.:
punchyth me, Lorde, and spare my blyssyd wyff Anne. [Coventry Mystery Plays, late 15c.]
To punch (someone) out "beat (someone) up" is from 1971. To punch a ticket, etc., "make a hole in" to indicate use of it is from mid-15c. To punch the clock "record one's arrival at or departure from the workplace using an automated timing device" is from 1900.
There are time recorders for checking the minute of arrival and departure of each office employee—machines that operate with clock attachment and which in response to worker's punch print on tabular sheets of paper his promptnesses and delinquencies. [Richard Lord, "Running an Office by Machinery," in System, September 1909]
Perhaps you are some great big chief, who has a lot to say.
Who lords it o'er the common herd who chance to come your way;
Well, here is where your arrogance gets a dreadful shock,
When you march up, like a private, salute, and PUNCH THE CLOCK.
[from "Punch the Clock," by "The Skipper," The Commercial Telegraphers' Journal, May 1912]
"hard aromatic seed of the fruit of a tree found in the East Indies," used as a spice on cookery, c. 1300, note-mug, from Old North French or Anglo-French *noiz mugue, from Old French nois muguete, an unexplained alteration of nois muscade "nut smelling like musk," from nois "nut" (from Latin nux, from PIE *kneu- "nut;" see nucleus) + Latin muscada, fem. of muscat "musky" (see muscat). Probably influenced in English by Medieval Latin nux maga (compare unaltered Dutch muskaatnoot, German muscatnuß, Swedish muskotnöt).
American English colloquial wooden nutmeg "anything false or fraudulent" is from 1827; Connecticut is called the Nutmeg State "in allusion to the story that wooden nutmegs are there manufactured for exportation." [John Russell Bartlett, "Dictionary of Americanisms," 1859]
At a dinner party, the other day, during a little playful discussion of Yankee character, a bland and benevolent-looking old gentleman at my side informed me that he had come to the conclusion that the wooden-nutmeg story was neither more nor less than a mischievous satire. "For," said he, "there would be such an amount of minute carving required to make a successful imitation of the nutmeg, that the deception would hardly pay the workman. For myself, I do not believe the cheat was ever practised." I thanked him in the name of my country for the justice done her, and assured him that the story of the Yankee having whittled a large lot of unsaleable shoe-pegs into melon seeds, and sold them to the Canadians, was also a base fabrication of our enemies. [Grace Greenwood, "Haps and Mishaps of a Tour in Europe in 1853"]
"1 more than three, twice two; the number which is one more than three; a symbol representing this number;" Old English feower "four; four times," from Proto-Germanic *fedwores (source also of Old Saxon fiuwar, Old Frisian fiower, fiuwer, Frankish *fitter-, Dutch vier, Old High German fior, German vier, Old Norse fjorir, Danish fire, Swedish fyra, Gothic fidwor "four"), from PIE root *kwetwer- "four." The phonetic evolution of the Germanic forms has not been fully explained; Watkins explains the -f- as being from the following number (Modern English five).
To be on all fours is from 1719; earlier on all four (14c.). Four-letter word as a euphemism for one of the short words generally regarded as offensive or objectionable is attested from 1923; four-letter man is recorded from 1920 (apparently as a euphemism for a shit). Compare Latin homo trium litterarum, literally "three-letter man," a euphemism for fur "a thief." A four-in-hand (1793) was a carriage drawn by four horses driven by one person; in the sense of "loosely tied necktie" it is attested from 1892. To study The History of the Four Kings (1760, compare French Livres des Quatre Rois) contains an old euphemistic slang phrase for "a pack of cards," from the time when card-playing was considered a wicked pastime for students. Slang 4-1-1 "essential information" (by 1993) is from the telephone number called to get customer information. The four-color problem so called from 1879. The four-minute mile was attained 1954.
c. 1300, "twice as much or as large," also "repeated, occurring twice," also "of extra weight, thickness, size, or strength; of two layers," from Old French doble (10c.) "double, two-fold; two-faced, deceitful," from Latin duplus "twofold, twice as much," from duo "two" (from PIE root *dwo- "two") + -plus "more" (see -plus).
From early 14c. as "having a twofold character or relation," also "consisting of two in a set together; being a pair, coupled." From mid-14c. as "characterized by duplicity." The earliest recorded use in English is c. 1200, in double-feast "important Church festival."
Double-chinned is from late 14c.; double-jointed, of persons, is by 1828. Military double time (1833) originally was 130 steps per minute; double quick (adj.) "very quick, hurried" (1822) originally was military, "performed at double time."
The photographic double exposure is by 1872. The cinematic double feature is by 1916. Double figures "numbers that must be represented numerically by two figures" is by 1833. Double-vision is by 1714. Double indemnity in insurance is by 1832; double jeopardy is by 1817. The baseball double play is by 1866.
Double trouble "twice the trouble" is by 1520s; in 19c. America it was the name of a characteristic step of a rustic dance or breakdown, derived from slave dancing on plantations. A double-dip (n.) originally was an ice-cream cone made with two scoops (1936); the figurative sense is by 1940. Double bed "bed made to sleep two persons" is by 1779. Double life "a sustaining of two different characters in life" (typically one virtuous or respectable, the other not) is by 1888.
Middle English prikke, "pointed object, something that punctures or stabs; sting of an insect; a goad; a pin or fastener; a pricking as a bodily pain or torment," from Old English prica (n.) "sharp point, puncture; minute mark made by sticking or piercing; particle, very small portion of space or time," a common Low German word (compare Low German prik "point," Middle Dutch prick, Dutch prik, Swedish prick "point, dot") of unknown etymology (see prick (v.)).
Figurative sense of "a goad" (to the affections, the conscience, etc.) was in Middle English. The meaning "pointed weapon, dagger" is attested from 1550s. From the Old English sense of "dot or small mark made in writing" came the Middle English use, in music, "mark indicating pitch" (compare counterpoint (n.2)); hence prick-song (mid-15c.) "music sung from written notes" instead of from memory or by ear.
It had many entwined extended senses in Middle English and early modern English, such as "a point marking a stage in progression," especially in the prick "the highest point, apex, acme;" and from the notion of "a point in time," especially "the moment of death" (prike of deth).
The use in kick against the pricks (Acts ix.5, first in the translation of 1382) probably is from sense of "a goad for oxen" (mid-14c.), which made it a plausible translation of Latin stimulus: advorsum stimulum calces was proverbial in Latin, and the English phrase also was used literally. The notion in the image is "to balk, be recalcitrant, resist superior force." The noun also was used in the 1384 Wycliffe Bible in 2 Corinthians xii.7, where the Latin is stimulis carnis meæ:
And lest the greetnesse of reuelaciouns enhaunce me in pride, the pricke of my fleisch, an aungel of Sathanas, is ʒouun to me, the which boffatith me.
Earliest recorded slang use for "penis" is 1590s (Shakespeare puns upon it). The verb prick was used in a figurative sense "have sexual intercourse with" (a woman) in Chaucer (late 14c.). My prick was used 16c.-17c. as a term of endearment by "immodest maids" for their boyfriends. As a term of abuse to a man, it is attested by 1929. Prick-teaser is attested from 1958.
"fine, minute, loose, uncompacted particles," c. 1300, poudre, "ash, cinders; dust of the earth;" early 14c. of any pulverized substance; from Old French poudre "dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance" (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) "dust, powder" (source also of Spanish polvo, Italian polve; see pulverize).
The insertion of the unetymological -d- was common in French (compare meddle, tender (adj.), remainder). German has it as a doublet; Puder via French and Pulver from Latin. From mid-14c. specifically as "medicinal powder;" specialized sense of "gunpowder" is from late 14c. In the sense "powdered cosmetic," it is recorded from 1570s.
Powder keg "small barrel for holding gunpowder" is by 1820; the figurative sense ("something likely to explode easily") is by 1895. Powder room, euphemistic for "women's lavatory," is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant "place where gunpowder is stored on a warship" (1620s). Powder monkey "boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazines to the guns" is from 1680s. Powder blue (1650s) was smalt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894.
The phrase take a powder "scram, vanish," is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor's instruction, so perhaps the notion is of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician's magical powder, which makes things disappear).
Avis dropped an exhausted little heap onto her aunt's bed. She put her hand over her heart and said piteously, "Oh, Aunt Joyce, I mustn't ever do that again. My heart's going awful fast. I shall have to take a powder. Wasn't it fun though-" Avis' dark eyes flashed. [from "The Evolution of Avis" in The Connecticut School Journal, Jan. 9, 1902]
When the wife of your breast has confessed she has drest
On just triple the sum you allowed her,
And has run up long bills for her frocks and her frills—
Take a powder, my friend, take a powder.
[from "The Panacaea," in Punch, Dec. 14, 1901]
Powder in the wind (c. 1300, meaning powdered spices) was a Middle English image of something highly valued but flawed in some way that renders it impermanent or doomed to loss (of virtues without humility, etc.).